The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 19, 2011

Redistricting showdown on tap for this weekend

CHARLESTON — Amid scuttlebutt that Raleigh County is open for even more “plundering,” the House of Delegates met briefly Thursday and set a weekend showdown on its once-vetoed and highly controversial redistricting plan.

Before calling it a day after a five-hour meeting, the House shot down by a 32-69 tally a plea by Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, to recess the session and return Sept. 12, the start of that month’s interims, to resume work on the hotly debated bill.

Accelerating the process, Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, moved the House to dispense with the committee reference, and the bill is to be read a second time in a brief session set for late this afternoon.

“We’re still on track, way ahead of what we have been in the last 30 years of redistricting,” Boggs told reporters afterward.

“Even with three days, we’ll still be ahead of what normal redistricting is. We want to do it right. We don’t want to do it quickly. We want to do it correct.”

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin called the special session after one in the first week of August produced a bill he was forced to veto over technical flaws. Several thousand voters in Morgan and Kanawha counties were tossed inadvertently into two districts simultaneously, giving them, in effect, double representation.

“It’s unfortunate,” Boggs said of the error, which he blamed on the drafting process.

“It’s not something we wanted to do. Every session, we have veto messages that are taken up.”

Boggs said the snafu can be attributed to the lengthy amendment process, not the legislation itself.

Since amendments are due in today before Saturday’s climax, Boggs said there should be ample time to uncover any errors.

“The difference is, there are going to be a lot more eyes on this, and more than 24 hours in advance for people to look at this,” the majority leader said.

Angst is high in the chamber over the bill, and the unrest isn’t limited to either party.

Absent an opportunity to actually see the new maps, delegates in the targeted 27th District fear a deeper invasion of Raleigh County under this plan.

Two Fayette County lawmakers told The Register-Herald they understood the new plan not only embraces Bradley and Crossroads Mall, but courses through Lanark and Stanaford, engulfing Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital.

Delegate Richard Snuffer, R-Raleigh, said he understands the proposal throws two Republicans — veteran Linda Sumner and freshman John O’Neal — into a single-member district consisting mostly of Beckley, Woodcrest and Maxwell Hill, while he would be placed in a revised, two-member district hugging a small portion of Raleigh, all of Summers and a portion of Monroe. Delegate Virginia Mahan, D-Summers, now occupies Summers alone as part of the 27th.

Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, would be left in a single-member district in his home area of Crab Orchard, and the western part of Raleigh would be shipped off to Wyoming County, Snuffer said.

“They have lied through the whole process,” Snuffer said of the Democratic leadership. “They lied to the media. They lied to the people, and they lied to this body.”

Snuffer said he wasn’t worried about just how the final plan shakes out.

“I can always move into another district,” he said.

Snuffer said the intent of the leadership was to strike back at the Republicans for winning three of the five seats in the 27th, once an impenetrable stronghold for the Democrats until Sumner broke the barrier in 2002.

“They’re looking to plunder Raleigh County even more,” Snuffer charged.

“Maybe they looked at the maps and figured they didn’t stick it to the Republicans or the people enough. You’re seeing a leadership in panic,” Snuffer said. “You’re seeing a leadership that is losing control of their members. They have a revolt on their hands. Instead of doing exactly what they’re told, there are members who actually support what the public wants on both sides, and leadership doesn’t know how to handle it.”

Moye wasn’t certain if he would offer any amendments when the floor battle comes Saturday.

“I thought we were going to have the committee meet, then we dispensed with the committee,” he said.

“I’m not sure it (Raleigh’s realignment) is going to be better than it was before.”

Moye tried to alter the plan in committee in the first session but lost on both efforts, then withheld them when the bill hit the floor.

“It all depends on what the maps look like,” he said, when asked if he would make one final effort. “I would expect to.”

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